This video shows Natural Resources Police measuring undersized oysters taken from a Pirate Poacher of the Bay in January of 2014.
Pirate Poachers of the Bay
Over the past year, THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY has been highlighting the arrests of outlaw watermen in the Maryland and Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Readers who have been following these violations and the tracking of the court appearances have been learning that, for most cases, the legal repercussions of these infractions have been very minor or non-existent.
Just last week, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission took firm action against ten watermen who were caught inside a condemned oystering area of the James River and suspended their licenses for two years! But before they drew another breath, they immediately revoked the suspension for nine of them and put them on “probation”.
The Talbot County States Attorney, Scott Patterson, made a plea deal with the Lynch brothers and let them walk out of the courtroom “Scott-Free” by letting them post an I.O.U. on their fines.
Now one prosecutor, the first one to sound off this year, has decided to take a stand.
Prosecutor Calls for Mandatory Jail Time for Repeat Offender Outlaw Watermen
By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
PRINCESS ANNE, MD. — The years of easy treatment in court for wayward and outlaw watermen – who truly believe themselves to be sacred cows – might be coming to a halt. At least those days are over for poachers and pirates of the Chesapeake who end up on the docket of Somerset County States Attorney Dan Powell.
Powell, a native Somerset County lawyer has been States Attorney since first winning the post in 2010, prides himself on honest work. He knows the hard-working watermen of his county do too and as difficult as changing regulations can be to adhere to, he knows that most of the region’s watermen are following the rules regarding the catch of Chesapeake Bay fish, crabs and oysters.
For a few scofflaws who have been banking on the easy treatment seen in some of Maryland’s District Courts in past years, such as Lance Fridley and others soon to appear in Somerset County District Court, they might want to double down and hire a high-priced attorney. They are going to need them.
“I believe it’s time the legislature enact statues calling for incarceration and mandatory penalties for repeat offenders,” said Powell. “We have seen those changes in laws regarding other offences and the time has come to put real teeth into the law.”
Powell has several cases coming up soon on his docket in Somerset County in which outlaw watermen are being cited for various offences.
Coming up on March 10, 2015 is Lance Fridley – pirate poacher of the Chesapeake Extraordinaire!
Natural Resources Police report that on Monday Dec. 29, 2014, DNR officers set up surveillance near Deal Island in Somerset County to check for oyster harvesting before legal hours. At about 5:30 a.m., they saw a boat operating without navigational lights head into Tangier Sound.
DNR Police say that the officers tailed the vessel and watched its activity with night-vision glasses. Two officers boarded the vessel and directed the operator, Lance Carl Fridley, 29, of 10915 Tangier Acre Drive, Deal Island, to return to shore. Once back at Deal Island, the officers found seven bushels of oysters aboard his vessel, all containing oysters ranging from 55 percent to 69 percent of unsorted bivalves.
While honest and hardworking watermen follow the law and sort and cull their oysters at the point of catching them, returning the shells and undersized oysters to the bottom to grow and replenish, Fridley was simply keeping all he gathered.
Fridley was charged with seven counts of possessing unculled oysters, oystering before legal hours, having oysters aboard between two hours after sunset and sunrise, power dredging in a prohibited area, operating a vessel without navigational lights, and negligent operation of a vessel.
Prosecutor sets the record straight on Fridley
Powell contacted THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY following the publication of an article on Jan. 2, 2015 detailing the criminal history of Fridley.
“The two cases where Mr. Fridley was incarcerated for theft and violation of probation (five months jail time) I was the State’s Attorney who prosecuted him. I am well aware of Mr. Fridley and I am personally handing his case with Deputies Shores and Stanley in District Court on February 17, 2015. Case No. 5G18079 Mr. Fridley received 90 days in jail; Case No. 3G17559 Mr. Fridley received 90 days in jail. As to the theft case and assault cases that were NP while I have been State’s Attorney the victim’s in both cases who were the state’s sole witnesses did not want to testify and asked my office to drop the cases. The other Assault case while I was State’s Attorney was tried and the Court found Mr. Fridley not guilty.”
Powell checked case files for the earlier charges which were dropped and the files reveal that they were dropped by his predecessor.
Powell admits that the prosecution of poachers and outlaw watermen has not in the past been as strenuous as it perhaps should have been.
With four full-time attorneys and two part-time to handle the case load, the rocket-docket of District Court where hundreds of cases zoom in front of a District Court judge in a few hours at times leaves justice seeping through the cracks.
Between the changing and shifting tides of the Bay, are new regulations of oystering setting aside areas of river bottoms designated as oyster sanctuaries.
The days of huge harvests of “white gold” as oysters were called in the 1800’s now has turned boomtowns like Crisfield into ghost towns. The biggest deal in Crisfield is hauling tourists out to Smith and Tangier Islands. A sprawling marina filled with luxury boats is surrounded with tall iron fences to barricade out the thieves living in the nearby Section 8 housing complex.
Watermen are at odds with sport fishermen who love the return of trophy rockfish which were almost fished to extinction until a moratorium was enacted in 1992.
Now the Rockfish are back in huge numbers.
Many watermen say that the explosion of the rockfish population is the cause of the low numbers for crabs. They say that when you clean your rockfish you will find they are full of crabs.
Viewpoints of watermen towards the state-designated efforts range from supportive to hostile, with some calling the sanctuaries “oyster cemeteries” as a place where oysters are left to die.
The sport fishermen say that the watermen will steal the last oyster if they are allowed.
The watermen’s association has had plenty of time to add the viewpoints of its members as laws have been regurgitated out of the legislative process in Annapolis. Between breakfast meetings to barroom late-night discussions in the taverns of the state’s capital during the General Assembly sessions, the watermen have made their points to lawmakers.
Among the leaders of the watermen are some who have been cited repeatedly for violations and even one who bribed a Maryland DNR Police captain. That kind of background blends in well with the various criminal chicanery that the legislators have been known for from year to year.
The days of oysters and crabs by the bushel showing up on the back porch of judges and prosecutors may not yet be over, but with the public using their computers to track news stories in THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY, with some stories having had over 100,000 page views, it is likely that less bartered bushels will appear in the future.
In short, the public is paying attention and time will tell if the Judges will pay attention to the public. District Court judges do not have to face the voters. They are appointed to ten-year terms and can retire at age 70 with full salary as their pensions. They often are haughty, arrogant and aloof. They do as they damn please and answer really to no one.
The attitudes and expressions of the public on the Facebook page of THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY are vigorous to say the least, with many of the posters – all of whom are self-identified – calling for strict penalties and large fines, confiscation of boats and equipment and life-time banishment from the water for repeat offenders.
The decision over whether to prosecute belongs exclusively to the elected States Attorney of each county. He or she owes no one an explanation as to why charges are dropped or what kind of plea deal was made. No one but the voters.
The prosecutor is in the best position to bring about adherence to the law by insisting on a “pound of flesh” that means something instead of light or even non-existent fines as recently allowed by Talbot County States Attorney Scott Patterson who let two outlaw watermen off “Scott-Free”.
Powell knows how he got his job. He has worked for it and calls it the best job he could ever hope to have and wants to keep it, and likely will.
After being appointed to West Point at the age of 17, he realized at the end of his second year that he truly wanted to be a lawyer and not a soldier. As it turned out, he left West Point, went to Salisbury and to law school and along the way joined the Army Reserve and became both a lawyer and a soldier.
A key part of the process of how he landed his first job had nothing to do with the law or being a soldier.
When he interviewed with Baltimore County States Attorney Sandra O’Conner, he believes the fact that he lettered in softball in high school and the Baltimore States Attorney softball team needed some depth in right field made a difference. He got the job after O’Conner called Somerset County States Attorney Logan Widdowson for a reference; and ended up getting the girl too, as that is where he met his wife, Christine. While she was a prosecutor then, she now works on the ‘dark side’, as a public defender in Snow Hill.
Mixed in with the fishing violations of some of the outlaw watermen are criminal backgrounds ranging from burglary to drug dealing, with assault and domestic violence scattered through the criminal histories of many of them.
The near-epidemic of heroin and other drugs have Powell really worried.
“They try to say that marijuana is a harmless drug,” said Powell. “That really isn’t so, as criminals with guns often are selling weed or want to rob the ones who do.”
Powell pointed over his shoulder, out of his office window to the main street of Princess Anne.
“Down that street there, one block, to the light and down the next corner is where a young fellow was standing there selling weed,” said Powell. “A young man decided to rob him of his weed and this seventeen-year-old kid fired his gun and killed the other young man, right here in the center of town and only over marijuana. No one can say that marijuana is victimless.”
Powell also pointed to the influence that the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) has had on Somerset County.
“We got a lot of jobs from it, but there were other consequences as well,” said Powell.
A recent article in a Salisbury website made a strong point that the citing of the prison in nearby Somerset turned Salisbury into a cesspool of crime. The point made by the editor of the SBY is that criminals move their families to the low-rent areas of Salisbury and ghettoize sections of the once bustling city. In addition, the point was made that inmates are released into the community instead of being shipped back to Baltimore where most of them hail from. The article argued that Salisbury is being turned into a crime-ridden haven for Baltimore’s vermin and that local officials are clueless and some are profiting from the spread of low-rent housing development.
Powell was asked if prisoners are being released into Somerset County.
“I did look at records of the county during the two years when I was county administrator,” said Powell. “I did see a letter from Governor Harry Hughes pledging that the state would not be releasing prisoners into Somerset County if the county would accept the prison. That is not the case any longer, they are released here.”
With the busy U. S. 13 highway running parallel to Princess Anne and carrying with it all of the challenges of law enforcement of the modern society, the contrast to environmental challenges are mixed.
Who would ever have thought that outlaw watermen were also part-time burglars and drug dealers?
The Maryland State Police recently cracked open a case of black drug dealer pimps running black hookers from Princess Anne to Pennsylvania and keeping them as slaves in a local motel room. One hundred and fifty years ago, blacks seeking freedom were spirited away from plantations in Somerset County north up the Delmarva Peninsula to freedom in Pennsylvania. That was the infamous ‘Underground Railroad’.
Thus where once was the Underground Railroad to freedom for blacks escaping the slavery embraced by white plantation owners, now blacks are seen enslaving other blacks to make a buck and U. S. Route 13 was the main drag for delivering hookers to customers?
Still, the system of justice is centered on each county’s courthouse and in Somerset that is Princess Anne. The county has its District Court in a converted space in a shopping center, next to other offices that hand out welfare, in a virtual one-stop shopping of services to the revolving door of poverty and crime. The Circuit Courthouse stands in the center of the old town which, like other Maryland towns that had traffic bypass them, is filled with antique shops and lots of empty spaces.
The 1904 red-brick structure was built to reflect “The early Twentieth century prosperity and the colonial heritage of Somerset,” says the signpost in front of the courthouse. That is so and so is the District Court which is almost an annex of the welfare and social services office next to it, reflecting the poverty, drugs and crime.
Princess Anne, like so many other towns, is struggling but it is also fighting to move ahead. Signs of churches, events, parades and activities to retain community spirit can be seen in windows and window dressing.
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is on the other side of town from the busy north-south highway that funnels traffic from New York to Florida.
Also running up the peninsula is the rail line which still serves freight traffic from Cape Charles north.
With a state prison, a national highway, a large state college and a tightening natural resource, Somerset County is in a perfect storm for all of the pressures of society to erupt into the courtrooms of Princess Anne.
Powell points to several murders his office has hand to handle as well as infamous murder cases moved to Princess Anne as a change of venue.
The town may look like Mayberry on the outside, but to a large extent, the challenges are the same here as everywhere else.
The Town has a set of commissioners, one of whom recently entered an ‘Alford Plea’ to charges of assault. Town Commissioner Lionel Frederick was charged with spraying a cohort with mace and striking the victim with his van. In a plea deal, he was given 100 hours of community service and the motor vehicle rap was dropped by a Special Prosecutor.
The commotion of criminal charges for Commissioner Frederick was on the front page of the local newspaper. He posed for The Daily Times newspaper in front of a store-front church window with the words “Pure World Bible Church” prominently displayed as he appeared next to the window in his white suit and tie, and dreadlocks draped over his shoulders. Not exactly Marion Barry but not too far from it.
But the juxtaposition of the store window to Frederick heading to court shows he has a great command of how to capture the media, if not the moment. Even small-town politicians have adoring media, just like President Obama in D.C.
The Town didn’t have a way to bounce Frederick off the Town Council as apparently there are no standards to hold office. Just like the rest of America, in Princess Anne the voters get to have who they want in office.
As H. L. Mencken said one hundred years ago, “The common man knows what he wants and he deserves to get it, good and hard.”
As politics and law go, Somerset seems to be well-served and has great diversity.
Longtime attorney, Democrat Delegate and now Circuit Court Judge Dan Long enjoys strong respect from many; a hard-working set of commissioners in Princess Anne led by Commissioner Dennis Williams is making headway and Dan Powell shows that as a prosecutor, the hard-working Republican is doing what he has always done – work hard. Powell prides himself on having earned his own way through school and never piled up the burden of student loans. The son of a teacher and a farmer, Powell learned early in life that working for a living provided value and purpose to everyone in a community.
Powell said he learned in school, the military and working as a prosecutor and county administrator how to be a leader. He says looks forward every day to coming to work and getting a chance to provide leadership.
Many in Somerset believe he is doing just that.
As Princess Anne Commissioner Williams said of Powell, “we all love Danny a lot, he does a great job for the county.”
Lance Fridley’s Career Court Appearances
◦Fridley was charged with a bevy of traffic charges after a crash on Sept. 1, 2014 at Rollan Parks Road and Deal Island Road in which he was also cited for DWI by Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy A. Stanley. His trial on those charges is set for Feb. 17, 2015.
◦On July 12, 2014, Fridley was charged with theft and States Attorney Dan Powell dropped the charges.
◦On Oct. 24, 2014, Fridley was charged with possession of 145 unculled oysters by DNR Officer Brimer and is due in court on Jan. 13, 2015 for that case. (Powell said that Fridley failed to appear in court for that date and a warrant will likely be issued for his arrest.)
◦On Jan. 15, 2011, charges of second degree assault against Fridley were dumped by the Somerset County States Attorney Dan Powell. Fridley was represented by a Public Defender courtesy of the taxpayers. (See Powell explanation above that the victim didn’t want to testify and requested that the charges be dropped.)
◦On Sept. 12, 2011, Fridley was charged with assault in Somerset County District Court. In a plea deal with the Somerset County States Attorney, Fridley entered a guilty plea and paid no fine, did no time.
◦On July 23, 2009, Fridley was charged in Somerset County Circuit Court with drug distribution charges. The prosecutors often allow dumping charges when the culprit rats on his competitors in the drug trade. On Aug. 11, 2009 Kristy Hickman, the States Attorney for Somerset County, put all the charges on the Stet Docket. Fridley paid no fine, did no time and the Judge waived the court costs.
◦On April 26, 2009, Fridley was charged with assault and Somerset County States Attorney Hickman put the case on the Stet Docket, with no fine, no time.
◦On Jan. 14, 2005, Fridley was charged with theft and on Sept. 27, 2005, Kristy Hickman, States Attorney for Somerset County, put the charges on the Stet Docket with no fine, and no time. The taxpayers funded his legal representation from Public Defenders (now District Court Judge in Wicomico County) John Rue and Bruce C. Anderson.